It was a Sunday afternoon nearly 16 years ago, the last day I spoke to my father, Don Whiteman.
I was headed to work, and dropped by daughter off at my parents’ home. I was running a little late, but something told me to sit down on the porch and watch my normally grouchy father play with my three-year-old daughter. I remember laughing as they splashed in a baby pool of water.
I remember really listening as he spoke to me and to her.
I went to work that night, and got the call everyone dreads the next morning. My father had died in his sleep.
Those few minutes late for work had meant so much.
This weekend is Father’s Day, a day to celebrate the role of fathers in society. While lots of children will be out looking at the shelves of various stores for the perfect Father’s Day gift, all these years later, I would venture a guess to say that spending time with my father was the gift with the best return on investment for me.
My dad liked gadgets. We bought him a leaf blower once. He didn’t use it for leaves, but he had hours of fun pestering the cat.
He was a fan of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, and would watch the games in the basement on an old black and white television with the sound turned off — he liked the radio commentary better, so he’d play that instead of the television’s sound.
My older brothers tell story of working on cars with my dad, or going to the races with him.
I come from a big family, and by the time I was around, my dad wanted to rest and watch television — not be pestered by little ones. But he became a whole different man when his grandchildren were around.
He would stop at garage sales — something I don’t remember him ever doing when I was young — and find toys he’d think they would like. He bought a little shopping cart for my daughter, and would place items all around the house for her to go “shopping.”
He’d read to them, or tell them stories, or give up the precious television remote to let one of his grandchildren watch a program.
Years later, I don’t remember what I ever gave him for Father’s Day. What I treasure are the memories of time spent with him.
My father-in-law, C.T. Schellhammer passed away in 2013. He never wanted gifts for Father’s Day — unless it was ammunition or a new gun. What he wanted was time spent with his family.
I would get such a kick out of watching him when the family was home. Their six children and spouses and multitudes of grandchildren would be talking, laughing, fighting, playing, pestering. And he’d sit back with a huge smile on his face, make sure his hearing aids were in and shut them off. They worked to block out the noise.
He was happiest when the family he loved was close by.
So take a lesson from me this Father’s Day, please.
I’d give a whole lot to have one more minute, hour or day in which to tell these men what they meant to me and to all of those who loved them.
Visit. Talk. Listen. Collect some precious memories for the days when they are all you have. You won’t regret it.